THE ANDREW BERENDS I KNOW
I first met Andrew Berends in 1991 when we were second-year students at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. We lived together with 5 other students in a house on High Street. Andy was the shy, tall guy who played guitar and always seemed to have a passionate, secret crush on the prettiest girl in class. We were Film Studies majors, and took a lot of the same classes. I was 3000 miles from home; Andrew was the guy who would invite me to stay at his house over holidays. When we were seniors, I was the cameraman for Andy’s thesis film. In those early years I was introduced to Andy’s determination, his droll deadpan wit, and his deep honesty.
After college Andrew spent years making a film about Dutch fishermen in the North Sea, and I was in Siberia. It wasn’t until we reconnected in New York and while making documentary films in Iraq after the 2003 war that I got a real taste of Andrew’s bravery, morality, and his compassion as a filmmaker and as a human being.
We were working on different projects but often found ourselves crashing in the same dusty apartments in Baghdad in 2004, sharing our food, contacts and company, trying to stay sane and focused in a place that was crazier and more dangerous by the day.
Any journalist who’s ever worked in a dangerous place knows you can divide the world into two categories of people: Those who you want to be with in a war zone, and those you don’t. Andrew falls firmly into the former group. Not just because he’s brave, and not simply because he’s dependable, intelligent and funny. You need Andrew to be with you in a dangerous corner because he’s one of the kindest people you’ll ever know, and because you can trust him with your life. The people he films can sense that sincerity in him, and the trust they feel toward Andy shines through onto the screen in his documentary films.
Within six months working in Iraq, Andrew had filmed the material for two feature-length documentary films: Blood of My Brother and When Adnan Comes Home. Both films present intimate and piercing portraits of an Iraq few of us will ever experience ourselves. Both films display Andrew’s deep commitment to his subjects, and his honesty as a filmmaker. In recognition of his achievement, Andrew was presented with the Courage Under Fire award in 2006 by the International Documentary Association. Nobody deserved it more.
It is because I know all of these things about Andrew Berends that I find his and his colleagues’ arrest by the Nigerian military and detention by the Nigerian State Security Services to be so disturbing. It is because of the esteem in which I hold Andrew Berends that I find the false charges leveled against him to be so insulting, so below the conduct of a legitimate government.
I hope that all those who care to live in a world without such insults to press freedom and integrity will join me in condemning the unlawful detention of Andrew Berends, and in calling for his immediate release, and the release of his translator, Samuel George.
— James Longley